Rights groups dismiss claims of progress


Sri Lanka yesterday claimed it was making progress on protecting human rights amid a barrage of sceptical questions about abductions, threats to journalists and lack of reconciliation with the Tamil community.

At a review before the United Nation Human Rights Council in Geneva, Mahinda Samarasinghe, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's envoy on human rights, said Sri Lanka was making progress in housing hundreds of thousands of people, de-mining areas and securing law and order. "A country's human rights situation cannot be assessed in isolation and should be examined in the context of the realities on the ground," he said.

But campaigners were not convinced. In advance of yesterday's session, at which around 100 countries tabled questions, around 50 human rights groups made written submissions. In its submission, Amnesty International said: "In 2012, grave human rights violations continue to be reported, including arbitrary arrest and detention by the police and other members of the security forces, enforced disappearances, and torture and ill-treatment."

Questions from various countries focused on efforts at reconciliation with the Tamil community and safety. Norway asked: "What measures will the Government take to ensure that all attacks and abductions of human rights defenders, journalists and civilians are investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice?"

Since Sri Lankan armed forces crushed the remnants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the spring of 2009, the government has spent millions of pounds on infrastructure and job development  in areas previously controlled by the militants. It has also overseen rehabilitation programmes for hundreds of former LTTE fighters. "In general I think there is tremendous satisfaction withe the big infrastructure projects - roads, electricity and hospitals," said Rajiva Wijesinha, a ruling coalition MP and presidential advisor.

But Tamil leaders say the government has refused to listen to demands for devolved powers. Talks between Tamil leaders and the government broke off earlier this year. "There has been no effort to reach out. It can only be described as 'nil', as 'negative'," said R Sambandan, leader of the Tamil National Alliance.

UN investigators said last year there were "credible allegations" both the Sri Lankan army and LTTE committed war crimes in the final stages of the conflict and that tens of thousands of civilians may have been killed. The panel called for an independent probe, something that was rejected by the Sri Lankan authorities which instead organised its own investigation. That inquiry largely cleared the authorities, who have always dismissed the allegations of war crimes.